SEATTLE (AP) — A Washington state Blue Shield health plan is asking for permission to raise its rates almost 15 percent in October.
Regence BlueShield said Wednesday it has asked the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner for permission to raise its base rates for individuals and families by an average of 14.7 percent starting Oct. 31. It said the increase would last until the end of 2013, and that it is needed to pay for expected medical claims over that time. Even with the higher rates, Regence said it would lose $4.5 million over that period.
Regence has individual and group medical, dental, vision, and life insurance, and offers Medicare plans. It is a nonprofit with 2.2 million members in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. It said it lost $4.6 million in its individual health business between 2009 and 2011.
The company said many insurance carriers have abandoned the market and it is trying to offer affordable and comprehensive plans. Regence said it would notify members of their expected increases by Sept. 1, when they receive their annual renewal information.
Many customers with individual insurance or coverage through a small employer have been hit with premium hikes of 20 percent or more over the past few years. The amount of the hike can depend on where the customer lives and the health of the policyholders in that person's risk pool, among other factors.
Reports in 2010 of Anthem Blue Cross raising rates as much as 39 percent for some California customers helped reignite debate over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which passed Congress in March of that year. The insurer later withdrew the increase, and state regulators wound up approving an average rate increase of 14 percent for Anthem Blue Cross, a WellPoint Inc. subsidiary.
Health insurers have faced criticism for imposing double-digit rate hikes on some customers while still pulling in multi-billion dollar profits. Health insurers say the hikes largely come from increases in the cost of health care, which they pass on to their customers. Individual and so-called small-group business plans generally represent a small slice of enrollment for major health insurers.